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October 03, 2018

Senate Passes Sweeping Opioid Bill With King-Backed Provisions

Includes King-backed provision to permanently allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe medication-assisted treatment

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) voted for the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and includes many provisions that will help Maine families and communities affected by the opioid crisis. The legislation was the result of months of bipartisan hearings and discussion on the opioid crisis. Senator King has previously supported several core provisions of the legislation, which will improve the federal government’s response to the opioid epidemic and lessen negative effects on children, families, and communities. The bill will now head to the President’s desk for his signature.
“The opioid epidemic is killing more than one person per day in Maine, leaving communities suffering in its wake and in need of support from the federal government,” said Senator King. “This bill takes a multi-pronged approach that will increase treatment opportunities, strengthen law enforcement efforts to crack down on drug dealers and smugglers, and give communities the tools they need to support their citizens struggling with substance use disorders. I’ve met with Maine people in recovery, parents of those struggling with substance use disorders, treatment providers and law enforcement officials across the state, each of whom has shared a unique story with a common message: this disease is hurting Maine people, families, and communities. This is not about partisanship – it’s about supporting our friends, neighbors, and loved ones who are currently caught in the midst of a disease they cannot control. Today’s legislation is a strong step to help those battling addiction, but must not be the end of this effort – there are still too many people who need help.”  
Specifically, Senator King has backed the following core values of the legislation:
·         Permanent Expansion of Base of Opioid Treatment Professionals Allowed to Prescribe Medication-Assisted Treatment: Senator King is a cosponsor of the Addiction Treatment Access Improvement Act, which permanently authorize nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorders. Under current law, these medical professionals are allowed to administer MAT until October 1, 2021; this new legislation would permanently authorize these professionals to administer MAT.  This provision was not a part of the package the Senate voted on last month, prompting Senator King to go to the Senate floor and advocate for its inclusion in the final package.
·         Reauthorization of the 21st Century Cures Act: Senator King was an outspoken advocate for funding originally provided by the 21st Century Cures Act, which provides critical opioid funding for states and tribes. The SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act will reauthorize and improve grants to states and Indian tribes for prevention, treatment, and recovery to mitigate the opioid crisis, authorized in 21st Century Cures, for three more years.
·         Inclusion of CRIB Act Provision: Senator King is a lead sponsor of the CRIB Act, which allows Medicaid to cover care for infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome in residential pediatric recovery centers.
·         Incentives for Students to Pursue Substance Use Disorder Work: The legislation includes a loan forgiveness program for students who agree to work as substance use disorder treatment professionals in areas that have been hit hardest by drug overdoses. The provision is based on the Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment Act of 2018, which Senator King cosponsored.
·         Increased Medicaid Coverage for Residential Treatment Programs: The legislation enables state Medicaid programs to cover care in residential treatment facilities for Medicaid beneficiaries aged 21 to 64. Under current law, the Institutions for Mental Disease (IMD) Exclusion limits residential treatment facilities to 16 beds in order to receive federal reimbursement; the legislation removes the IMD exclusion, allowing residential treatment facilities to expand their treatment capacity without losing federal reimbursement. The legislation reflects provisions of the Improving Coverage for Substance Use Disorder Recovery Expansion Act, which Senator King introduced.
·         Empower Communities to Combat Crisis: The bill reauthorizes the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) as well as its associated grant programs, such as the Drug-Free Communities Program and the High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Program. Senator King co-sponsored the Substance Abuse Prevention Act of 2018, which included the provision to reauthorize ONDCP. He also wrote a letter to the White House last year urging the administration to maintain funding for the office.
·         Reduction of Use and Supply: Senator King is a co-sponsor of the STOP Act, which will help stop illegal drugs at the border by requiring the postal service to obtain advance electronic data for international mail and provide that data to Customs and Border Protection.
Senator King has made combating the opioid crisis one of his top priorities in Washington. In July, Senator King hosted a panel of medical professionals, employers and advocates to discuss the opioid crisis and reduce the stigma surrounding Substance Use Disorders (SUDs). That same month, he met with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development, Anne Hazlett, and a number of medical professionals, law enforcement officers, advocates and local leaders at a Bangor roundtable discussing the opioid epidemic’s impact on rural Maine. In June, he highlighted the importance of the Affordable Care Act’s protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions to those struggling with substance use disorders – which is considered a pre-existing condition, so those who seek treatment could then be denied coverage or charged exorbitant rates based on their past substance use. He has repeatedly called on Congress and both the Obama and Trump administrations to fund laws and agencies that help address the drug epidemic.
Senator King has held several roundtables throughout Maine – from Portland to Bangor to Milo to Paris – and has spoken with health professionals, first responders, community members, and people in recovery to find ways to help people get better and make Maine communities safer and healthier. He has also joined a group of his Senate colleagues to write to the nation’s top health insurers urging them to do their part to combat the opioid epidemic. In an effort to hold the insurance industry accountable, the Senators asked the companies to both review their existing policies in light of the epidemic, and to take additional steps to make sure they are working actively to help curb addiction. In the FY 2018 Omnibus Federal Appropriations bill which passed in March, Senator King supported a provision which increased funding to fight the opioid and mental health crises by $3.3 billion, including an increase of $2.8 billion in treatment, prevention and research for programs within the Department of Health and Human Services. Also, in November 2017, Senator King led a letter to the Trump Administration urging additional funding for the opioid epidemic, and in October 2017 he joined a group of colleagues to introduce the Combating the Opioid Epidemic Act, legislation that would invest $45 billion for prevention, detection, surveillance and treatment of opioids.


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